The title of David Sheff’s 1993 book, Game Over, probably made a lot of sense at the time, considering Nintendo’s enviable position during the era of the book’s original publishing. Sheff’s sprawling account of the early video game industry uses Nintendo’s rise to power as a central narrative to tell the story of a young medium flexing new found muscle. Its subtitle, How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children, is best considered as a little bit of publisher mandated mustard; nothing in the book is as alarmist or trite as those sentiments. Nintendo’s success wasn’t due to sneak attacks or black magic. It was thanks to talented artists, ingenious marketing, and shrewd business decisions.
In the early 1990s, it seemed like the “game” to control the industry was over and Nintendo had won. Nintendo dominated the medium and looked poised to so indefinitely. Today, with the luxury of hindsight, Game Over takes on a different meaning; the early 1990s ended up being the beginning of the end of Nintendo’s singular dominance over the video game space. Ironically, many of the factors behind the company’s early success led to its subsequent troubles.